Wednesday, September 15, 2010
my conflicted "affair" with Richard Brautigan
I am not certain what word deems the proper relationship between a reader and an author, especially one where the reader has changed his affections toward the author numerous times, as they say in the midwest, "if you don't like the weather, wait an hour or two."
My first awareness of the name Richard Brautigan came from a copy of Revenge of the Lawn that my father owned. Okay, my Dad is someone I would never refer to as "hip", so his owning a copy of this book threw me for a loop. Still does as I think of it. I ventured into the marsh that is Brautigan on my own, by way of his association with the Beats. But "association" is a funny word when it comes to the Beats. For example, many people squeeze Bukowski in with the Beats. My response has always been, "really? how?" Guilt by association runs wide and deep with the Beats and while it's true that Richard lived in San Francisco and was photographed with lump sums of Beat generation literati, does that really make him one?
Even here I can't give him a pass. I got and read and tried to figure out (if I was missing something or if he was a fraud) ALL his books of poetry. All the ones that were left in print by 1970 when my sixteen year old awareness was piqued by Kerouac and Ginsberg and Burroughs. As the years passed, I collected and then sold off all my copies of Brautigan's work. More than once. I thought him insightful then I felt like I had been conned. I praised his genius and then couldn't remember a single phrase of his prose or a single line of his poetry, or I simply hated his titles without any poetry on the page. To say that I had an "off-again, on-again" relationship with Richard Brautigan is to be very generous to the word "relationship".
If a definition of "the Beats" simply included the core of friends who met each other at Columbia and had the New Vision, then Brautigan ain't Beat at all. But that definition isn't fair, and so I would say that Richard was a parallel Beat. A neutron around the clusters of the atom comprised by Jack and Allen and Old Bill Lee. As recently as 1999, I owned nothing by Brautigan although I continued to find copies of his work easily enough. Copies floating through the used book world and then once the Internet began to sprout, there as well. On Alibris, on any number of websites, and then of course on Amazon. I became a seller of Brautigan instead of a collector of him.
Then, as fate would have it, I got involved with a lady named Kate. Kate's mother has a friend named Kathy and Kathy told me the story of how Richard Brautigan has sent her a letter in response to a note that she had sent him. The letter was postmarked a day or two AFTER Richard had killed himself. So, it was like he typed out this reply letter, put it in the mail, came home and killed himself.
Now Brautigan was a lot closer to me; I could almost see his ghost when I held the letter addressed to my soon-to-be Mother-in-law's friend. Then Katy and I took over the daily operation of Plan B Press in 2003 (I co-founded the Press in 1998), and we decided to publish a short fiction contest. The second year of the contest, I decided to try and tie the contest to the 50th year anniversary of the writing and performing of HOWL for the first time. We had a "Beat themed" short fiction contest and the winner of the contest was Corey Mesler for his piece entitled "Following Richard Brautigan".
Curses all around as I know find myself gathering copies of his books again, along with reading Terence Malley's 1972 Richard Brautigan critique which was part of the Writers of the 70's series and becoming frustrated that so much of his work was not included in this volume as it had not been written yet! Then, of course, Corey Mesler was able to complete his book and have a publisher bring out the full Following Richard Brautigan with a thanks by the author to me specifically for my/Plan B Press's assistance along the way toward the completion of the novel. Of course, I buy a copy of it and am hooked. To Mesler's novel, and to Brautigan's work. Dang it. If only I could find a copy of "Plant this Book".